How many clients?


#1

The biggest percentage of my income that comes from one client is:

  • Less than 25%
  • Less than 50%
  • Less than 75%
  • Nearly all my income comes from one main client

0 voters

This topic was sparked by a VASG discussion - basically one of the VAs was saying that she had had a very successful VA business but that most of her work came from just one client. That client suddenly went bust and she was left without a business!!!

What percentage of your business comes from your biggest client? And what would happen if you lost them? Do you have in place plans to replace those clients or to stop them from destroying your business if they were to leave?


#2

My income is spread between around 10 clients with the largest percentage, 40%, with one client who has been with me for the last three years.

I have just let one client go because they were unwilling to accept an increase in rates, the first in three years. They accounted for 20% of income but at a much lower rate than the remained of my clients. I have however, just picked up a new client (maternity cover for a few months-who knows where that could go) who is more than happy to pay my rates.

I would be very concerned if I had more than 50% of income from just one client in case they did go under.

Dawn


#3

Interesting topic Caroline.

I tend to do bits and bobs here and there rather than work on retainers so no one client accounts for any large percentage. It’s funny though as I was talking to one of my clients about this the other day. It would seem a lot of VAs had only 2 or 3 clients. To me this would feel rather similar to working in an office where you look after 2 or 3 people. I think I prefer having a more varied day each day but I guess knowing I had regular cash coming in each month would be nice.

As far as replacing people goes I don’t have any special plans in place right now as I am always recruiting more clients anyway. Do VAs that work with just a couple of people continue marketing for new clients after they have filled their “working” hours? Obviously every one has their own business plan and mine includes employing local people so I always want more clients but if I wasn’t interested in expanding and just wanted to work a set amount of hours a week then once I had the clients in place I guess I would probably have stopped advertising. not sure really.


#4

Hi Sarah

Although I only work with a small number of clients, and yes I do offer my services as that of a ‘traditional’ PA who works with a few people, I don’t really stop looking for new clients.

Reason being that one never knows what is going to happen to the clients I have already. The hours I work with current clients are not set in stone and therefore I have a varied workload. For instance, this week for one client I was quiet Mon & Tues but I am going to be doing some quite important work today and tomorrow bidding on their behalf on a tender auction (hopefully won’t lose it because I bid too low), and then probably nothing till Friday when I do invoicing and paying the client’s staff.

Because of my clients’ flexibility and the fact I do some associate work with girls in USA and Australia, I can vary my hours to do extra work outside of normal office hours if need be (as well as doing my own admin and writing my business start up guide).

This means that I can market myself for new clients/associate work and, if need be, be selective with taking on new clients. If too many come out of the woodwork, I have associates in place to help out and I would then look at the ‘best paying/fit’ clients as in Paul Fruggle’s Change Your Clients presentation a few weeks ago.

Hope that makes sense.

Dawn


#5

It certainly does Dawn. I think what you demonstrate as well is that you get to do some juicy in depth work with your clients as you have built the relationship over a period of time. Because a lot of my clients want odds and ends done I don’t always get the stuff I can sink my teeth into. That’s definitely a benefit of having less clients but for more hours a week.

If you had, say 4 clients, that were on retainers for 10 hours a week so you had a guaranteed 40 hour week plus your own business admin etc would you still advertise for clients? I think people should as like you say you never know what will happen. but I think some people would be happy with 3 clients and 15 hours a week guaranteed work and therefore stop advertising. Afterall if they only want to work 15 hours a week and they have secured that then why continue to network etc?? Just a thought.

If you were at capacity and got a new client would you outsource or just turn them down?


#6

I don’t think I would turn them down, but would possibly look at repricing. If they are happy to pay a higher price, then I would also look at the pricing structure for the rest of my clients who are still on the same rates now as they were three years ago.

I tried to reprice one client in April, they were on a very low rate compared to everyone else as they had guaranteed me 40 hours per month when I first started but were on a fixed budget. However, this year the hours I worked for them dropped dramatically but the rate didn’t increase and they were £5.50 an hour lower than the rest of my clients. They weren’t willing to pay an extra £3 per hour, so I dropped them. However, a few weeks later I was put in touch with someone who wanted maternity cover and I am starting with them in August. As a result of speaking with this new client, I will also pick up other work for her which she currently gives to a VA agency who are charging her £15 per hour more than I do.

If the clients I have now are willing to pay the higher rate (and I’m positive they would due to the relationship we have), then I would look at using associates and new VAs (there are some very local to me) to assist when I have a heavier workload.

My aim has always been to have no more than 10 clients on the books, working closely with them and doing no more than 30 hours per week on client work. I’m not quite there yet but still do a lot of faffing around during the day to fill the hours.

Dawn


#7

Very interesting comments!

I suppose the other cat to throw in amongst the pigeons is that even if you had lots of VAs actually doing the work, there is a limit to the amount of delegation you can do in one day, not to mention checking and updating your own admin records.

There’s a lot of talk about how hourly billing creates a ceiling for what individual VAs can earn in any one week, but there is a further ceiling above that even if you are outsourcing work to other VAs.

I’d still be reticent about having most of my work from one or two clients. For example, we have a property client who got badly hit in the recession and our workload from them trailed significantly. Thankfully because we have clients in all different sectors and managed to make up the difference elsewhere, but it was a nasty 6 months or so. I suppose that’s one of the dangers of being a niche VA that never gets talked about - what happens if your niche dries up?


#8

I Haven’t really niched myself - I have 2 doctors but in totally different fields (one provides locum doctors to the Armed Forces, and one provides OH and insurance medicals), one client is a masseuse (I act as receptionist and book appointments), one provides software/bookkeeping solutions and I act as customer support, and provide any other support to associates.

Very varied and very interesting.

Dawn


#9

Good point Caroline. I know in the states there seem to be lots of VAs who assist estate agents, that can’t have been good over the last few years.

I suppose that is the bite of the niche, you get all the work as you are the one most experienced in that area but run the risk of work coming to a complete standstill if the industry fails. Luckily for me although I have a niche it is not industry related, although it could all go away as quickly as it came. If that were to happen I still have clients in other areas though so should be able to solider on.

The ceiling thing is what has always worried me. I would like a business that is growing, that eventually will be able to pay me while I follow other avenues that interest me. I would ideally employ more people and work on the business rather than in it. I’d like to think that in 15 years time the business would be ticking over just fine without me there. With the right people involved I see it as entirely feasible. Other people are happy with the ceiling and have no intention of even reaching it. Different people have different goals and personal lives that dictate their business plans. Someone I spoke to a few weeks back simply wanted to make a bit of extra money whilst looking after her child. While this is fine for her it would be unacceptable to me as I have different aims in life. The problem with that approach is just as was mentioned in the OP, fewer clients providing the income and although it is seen as a bit of extra money now the VAs family will begin to rely on it.


#10

Well you can join me on the beach too - coz that’s my plan!!! :wine:

I suppose you shatter the ceiling by hiring more people: First VAs to do the work, then project managers to assist in managing it, then General Managers to do all the other stuff.

One thing I’ve learned though is that once you get one bit of the business streamlined, it inevitably shows up a weakness somewhere else, so your attention gets dragged over there for a little while until you sort it out and then the cycle repeats.


#11

I’m not answering the poll because it wouldn’t be representative of my business over the past three years in which generally I’ve had 5 clients with a few project ones from time to time. Since the recession, I’ve had a core of two but one previous one has come back and I’ve now got another client for quite a lot of work but over a short period. So although last month one client amounted to over 50%, this won’t be true of this month and it’s not a situation in which I want to find myself on a long term basis. I remember an American forum suggesting no one client should provide more than 20% of income and I always thought this quite a good goal.

I have been marketing a lot since the recession - when I was mega-busy in 2008-9 I didn’t have time to and couldn’t have taken on anything extra anyway. Now a strange situation has arisen in that I have tons of potentials in the pipeline but nothing at all definite yet the new client came out of the blue when I applied for and got an evening job (employed) as Clerk to the Govs of a local school and they needed some extra work done for a project which they were happy for me to invoice as a VA.


#12

Caroline and Sara…pop a towel down on that beach for me! I may be a fair way behind you, but that’s my aim too (I’ll be on a later flight than you girls!!)

Same theme, different business…I am also a qualified equine sports massage therapist treating mainly performance horses. I had quite a number of eggs in one basket with my clients. I had one dressage client who had 5 extremely valuable horses (I’m talking some more than the value of my flat kind of valuable!!) and she treated them very very well indeed. I treated them on a fortnightly basis but, when the recession hit as she’s married to a banker she had to scale right back. The horses went out on loan and I ended up with a gaping hole in my business that just couldn’t be plugged. Other clients had to sell horses and those that were having monthly treatments dropped to every other month, then quarterly etc. I still treat horses but now cram them all into one weekend a month, but funnily enough I’ve got too many on my hands now.

To be honest, whilst it was fabulous money, it was very solitary and really began to take its toll physically. Also, when I was very busy although I looked at outsourcing some of the work, my clients wanted me to treat their horses and not for me to send someone else, which as a horse owner I can fully understand. Personally, I took on a new farrier who sent his apprentice one day when I was at work and he knobbled my horse. He’d got the balance of his foot so wrong that over a period of time it strained one of the ligments in his foot and he ended up so crippled he nearly had to be put down. After 3 YEARS completely confined to his stable (he’s an indoor sort so didn’t mind too much) and more love and attention than he could want, he’s made a full recovery and is back to competition fitness!

Anyway, I digress…I would be really nervous about having such a large part of my income coming from one client…once bitten, twice shy!

An interesting topic.

Regards

Victoria


#13

That seems like a very sensible balance to strike!

Victoria - you raise a really interesting point which is probably a whole new topic in itself: How do you wean clients off needing you to personally do their work? Or do you price accordingly and increase the prices to where you can afford to only work with 2-3 clients?


#14

For clients who specifically want you then you could charge a higher price but if they are prepared to work with any of your associates then offer a lower price for being flexible/using someone not as highly experienced or qualified. I’m sure hairdressers do this and there must be other industries who do it too.


#15

The increase in rate is a sensible idea. I can really see the value of outsourcing regarding VA work as you get to check the work, however if I’d have sent an EBW (Equine Body Worker) out to treat a client’s horse and something went twang I would never ever have forgiven myself. Thankfully it’s no longer an issue as I’ve closed my horse books for now!

Love all these debates/topics - keep them coming!

Victoria


#16

HI everyone

I’ve been reading this post with great interest. I’ve been working as a VA for a number of years now and have just taken the final step of launching my website and attempting to make this a full time business.

I started off working on Elance - I still have some (low paying clients!!). Anyway, at the moment I have a client who gives me around 90% of my work (UK based) and then another 3 in the UK who fill up the remaining 10% and then I have 2 US based clients who use me around 5 hours per week.

I’m starting to feel the strain, but am concerned about outsourcing to other people - I suppose you have to ‘let go of the baby’ eventually but I’m nervous about taking the final step and recruiting a VA team.

Experience and advise most welcome :smiley:

Martha


#17

Two comments on the client wanting YOU to do the work:

  1. Your business is you and the value in it is you. I discovered that when getting divorced and we had to put a value on the business. It turned out that without me, there was little or no value to the business.

  2. You doing the work personally is a bit like getting the top man (or woman) in the hair salon - you pay a little bit more for their cutting and styling than you do for Jane who’s just qualified (basic rate) or Andrea who’s been doing it for a few years (senior stylist rate). Therefore, I don’t see the problem with charging a little more if you’re doing it yourself. Of course, if you’re a one man band…